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David Lissner
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Eat this! Don Roth’s Blackhawk salad dressing to go on spinning

Blackhawk waiter Paul Rieger has been spinning salad bowls for 14 years. (Photos ©2009 Leah A. Zeldes)

Clockwise, from left: Don Roth's waiter Paul Rieger spins the Blackhawk's famed salad, as he has done for 14 years. After the restaurant closes Dec. 31, he’ll pursue a career as a health-insurance salesman. The plated salad, topped with both anchovies and shrimp. The Spinning Bowl Dressing will still be bottled and sold in local stores. (Photos by Leah A. Zeldes.)

What it is: The spinning-bowl salad is a signature of Don Roth’s Blackhawk in Wheeling, which is slated to close Dec. 31, ending a line of restaurants launched in 1938.

Since 1952, servers have been pouring dressing over a whirling bowl of greens and reciting:

This is our famous Blackhawk spinning salad bowl consisting of 21 ingredients, including a variety of fresh pulled greens. First we spin the bowl and apply the basic dressing. Next we add a bit of special seasoning, and then some chopped egg. We mix the salad a total of six times only, very gently, three now and three times later in order not to bruise the tender greens. Next we add some freshly ground pepper and our special blue cheese dressing. We now mix the salad three more times. And serve — topped with anchovies or shrimp.

You can get the salad for a few more weeks at the restaurant, which will be open for lunch and dinner through December, but after New Year’s Eve, you’ll have to make your own. Fortunately, the Roth family still plans to market their special salad dressing.

Where it comes from: Restaurateur Don Roth invented his own recipe for the salad and dressing, but he borrowed the spinning bowl idea from a friend. When the big bands that played at the original Blackhawk became less of a draw in the 1950s, Roth looked for a new way to entertain diners.

Out in California, a Beverly Hills restaurant, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, prepared salads tableside spinning the bowl on a bed of ice, a theatrical start to the meal dreamed up by founders Lawrence L. Frank and Walter Van de Kamp in 1938. Roth liked both ideas and brought them home to Chicago, declaring “the food is the show.” By the time Lawry’s came to Chicago to open its second location in River North more than 20 years later, Don Roth’s spinning salad was more famous than theirs.

Where to get it: Don Roth’s Blackhawk Spinning Bowl Dressing is sold locally at Sunset Foods and selected Dominick’s and Jewel stores. Until Dec. 31, you can also buy it at the restaurant.

Don Roth’s Blackhawk Spinning Salad Bowl

“As prepared tableside at Don Roth’s in Wheeling, Ill.”

1 handful pulled mixed greens, including head lettuce, romaine and chicory
2 tablespoons Don Roth’s Blackhawk Spinning Bowl Dressing
Seasoned salt to taste
1 heaping teaspoon chopped hard-cooked egg
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 heaping teaspoon cheese dressing (2 parts cream cheese to 1 part blue cheese, softened in water)
2 anchovies or cooked shrimp

Place the greens in a bowl and then place this bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice. While spinning the smaller bowl, apply Spinning Bowl Dressing.

Add the seasoned salt and egg. Mix the salad three times, gently, in order not to bruise the tender greens.

Grind on the pepper and add the cheese dressing. Mix the salad three more times. Serve topped with anchovies or shrimp. 1 serving.

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